Sioux City International Film Festival celebrates 16th year

The temps outside are starting to drop. You can hear and feel the crunch of the leaves under your feet. There is no mistaking that fall has arrived in Siouxland, and with it, the 16th annual Sioux City International Film Festival (SCIFF).

Tim Bottaro, one of the co-founders of the festival, shared with us some of the history of how the festival has changed over the years.

“When Rick Mullin, Margo Chesebro, Gary Lipshutz, John Carter, and I created what was then known as the ‘Siouxland Film Festival,’ the entries were submitted on VHS tapes. Over the years, we received thousands of VHS films. I was amazed we never received one that was damaged in the mail or other delivery service. I recall the first international film we received came from South Korea. We all marveled it arrived in one piece,” shared Bottaro.

Sadly, co-founder and prominent Sioux City volunteer, Rick Mullin, died this past February. Part of this year’s festival will include a tribute to Mullin highlighting his many achievements and contributions to the festival and the Siouxland area.

Through the transition from shooting movies on film to using digital technology, the festival, too, has changed with the times.

“We’ve transitioned to CD’s, DVD’s, and now to fully digital submissions. These formats are much easier to deal with; their size, better picture quality, more compact equipment, and copying/transfer abilities were all welcomed by our festival. I must defer much of the details to today’s formats of film to younger, more experienced board members,” stated Bottaro.

Another aspect of the film festival that has changed is where it is the location of the event.

“The move of the home of the festival to the Promenade Cinema in downtown Sioux City has been wonderful. The many filmmakers who travel to the now-named Sioux City International Film Festival (SCIFF) are thrilled to see their film on the big screen in a real theater digital format. The SCIFF patrons also appreciate the enhanced quality of the sound and viewing experience and have commented on it,” said Bottaro.

Fifteen years ago, a single foreign film was submitted to the festival. Today, one third of the films submitted are from outside of the United States.

“One of the reasons for the huge increase is due to two French filmmakers, sisters, flying to Sioux City for the world premiere of their drama, ‘A Moment of Lucidity.’ The sisters raved about the festival on Facebook and elsewhere. They are well known filmmakers internationally. As a result of their support the festival and its board members received many Facebook friend requests from filmmakers, actors, and others from around the world. It sparked the beginning of SCIFF’s growing reputation as a high level, truly international film festival. Every filmmaker, actor, or other film team member who has attended SCIFF have mentioned how surprised they were at the quality of the films shown, and the hospitality of everyone they have met. Many declare SCIFF is the best film festival they have ever attended,” stated Bottaro.

The French filmmakers were the Barabault sisters, and the year was 2016. The festival originally ran for only two days, on a weekend, but has grown to a full four-day celebration. This year the festival will be held from September 30 – October 3. The SCIFF is the longest, continuously running short film festival in Iowa. That is until the year 2020.

“Cancelling last year was difficult to break in this consecutive event. However, we also knew that battling a health crisis was a priority. We are allowing filmmakers from 2020 to submit for the 2021 festival and look forward to offering once again, a fantastic lineup of high-quality films,” stated current board president, Leslie Werden.

The festival accepts short films, no longer than 30 minutes in length. All subject matter is acceptable. This year’s theme for panels and workshops is Latinx. 

“The aspirations for the festival are to continue building momentum by bringing in excellent filmmakers and panelists so that the attendees not only see the films but also have the opportunity to hear directly from professionals in the industry. We currently work with Downtown Business Partners to generate ideas for events around downtown Sioux City that coincide with the festival. In addition, Downtown Partners promotes the event and provides us with some items for gift bags for incoming guests,” shared Werden.

In return, the festival has had its impact on the Siouxland community in helping support the aspirations of local film makers.

“We are aware of Wayne State’s status with a minor in film and they just announced the major (BS in Film Production and Theory) that will start in the fall semester (2021). We have a great relationship with Wayne State. Students not only attend the event but also host an informational table at the festival. We are also planning a Local Filmmakers block on Thursday night, September 30, to showcase works created by local students and community members,” said Werden. She and Dr. Michael White, an Assistant Professor, who focuses on broadcast and film production at Wayne State, will be working together on this aspect of the festival.

“The beauty of SCIFF is that each year brings a number of changes. The festival has evolved and adapted over the past 16 years. SCIFF will continue to meet the challenges of putting together an outstanding film festival. The support of the people of the region is critical to SCIFF’s success and has been a big reason for its long life,” said Bottaro.

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